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5 key steps toward building a habit-forming mobile app
Product Development

5 key steps toward building a habit-forming mobile app

This post is based on Nir Eyal's Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products . You can subscribe to our blog for future publications on the topic of building habit-forming websites and apps.

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Devon Fata
June 15, 2022

In the world of mobile apps, it's easy to get caught up in the new features that help you make your app stand out from the crowd. The latest updates, advanced technology and flashy graphics all attract users who want to get the most out of their experience. But how do we know if an app is truly habit-forming? In this article, we'll explain how companies can create user habits for mobile products and give them an advantage over competitors.

Step 1: Identify your goals for user engagement.

Before you begin building your habit-forming mobile app, it's important to identify the your goals for app engagement. How will users use the app? How often and for what purpose? Most importantly, consider how the app will reward the user over time.

A habit-forming app should involve feedback loops, be highly engaging, and take advantage of a user's natural instincts. It should encourage continuous engagement, and gamification to reward users for continued usage.

To create this level of engagement, you need to understand the psychology of habit formation. This includes understanding what triggers habits, how to use rewards to keep people engaged, and why people are more likely to form habits when they're bored.

Bonus: Want to learn more? Check out The Power Of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life And Business by Charles Duhigg as well as Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products by Nir Eyal. Both books are staples on our team when we're focused around building a heavily-gamified product.

Step 2: Create an app flow that supports the habit-forming process.

In this step, you'll define your app's design and flow.

  • Decide what behavior you want users to form. What habit do you want them to form? How will they consistently engage with the app? What hooks keep them coming back?
  • Understand the user's motivation. What is motivating them to take action?
  • Use a user's natural behavior to your advantage. If people are going somewhere on a daily basis, like in the case of Fitbit users who are walking more often than not, then using that "natural" behavior as an opportunity for engagement can have great results.

Step 3: Engage users with a simple on-boarding process.

The on-boarding process is the first impression a user has of your app. It's their first exposure to what you have to offer and how it works, so you want to make sure it's engaging and memorable.

Think about the last time you tried out an app. Within seconds after opening it for the first time, did you feel like you knew where everything was? Did the instructions make sense? Were there clear instructions on what to do next (and why)? Or did it just seem like another maze of screens with confusing text?

In order for an on-boarding experience to be effective, users must understand its value immediately—the more intuitive and easy-to-follow they find it, the more likely they are to complete this part of their journey successfully.

Step 4: Use push notifications strategically.

Push notifications are a great way to keep your users engaged with your app. However, if you're going to use them, make sure you're doing it right. Here's what we mean:

  • Push notifications can be useful. They can also be annoying. Use them sparingly, but use them in ways that reward customers, and give them an opportunity for something special -- think promotions, events, and things that a user will genuine care about.
  • Push notifications should encourage users to take action—whether that means opening the app or taking an action within the app (such as liking something). Ultimately, encourage users to engage by taking advantage of natural instincts, like FOMO (fear of missing out) or social proof. If a user sees that their network using your app your app, they will feel more comfortable doing so themselves.

Step 5: Prioritize mobile marketing strategies that encourage long-term app retention.

  • Use push notifications

These are the most effective way to remind users of your app, especially if they’re not opening it often. Ideally, you want to collect data on which types of content are most appropriate for each user or group of users so that you can tailor your push notifications effectively.

  • Use in-app messaging

In-app messages allow you to send non-intrusive reminders about features and products related to the app—for example, “You haven’t checked out our new clothing section yet!” These messages let you capture people who may have forgotten about downloading a habit-forming mobile app in the first place.

  • Use email marketing techniques like drip emails and auto responders (which automatically send new emails without having them manually triggered). Email is one of the most effective ways to reach people who have downloaded an app but stopped using it—in fact, email is 40 times more likely than Facebook or Twitter combined!

By focusing on user engagement, you can create an app that provides lasting value for your customers.

The first step to building a habit-forming mobile app is defining your goals for a strong user experience. This means identifying exactly what you want users to do with the app, and why they would want to do it. Defining the problem before starting on a solution will help you create an app that provides lasting value for your customers. In order for users to be engaged with your product, they must have a reason for doing so—and this reason should be intrinsic motivation: a desire or need within themselves that drives them toward action and away from inaction.

When setting goals for your mobile app, try not to focus on what other people's goals might be or how other apps have done in the past; instead, think about what you want out of this project and what your specific business goals and strategic objectives are.


From the steps above, it’s clear that there are many ways to build a habit-forming digital product. The key is to focus on creating an experience that users will find valuable, engaging, and rewarding. By focusing on a specific habit and designing your app flow with that in mind, you can create an experience that encourages long-term engagement with your product or service.

Looking for more guidance? Our team at Pixoul would love to work with you and help you build your habit-forming app. Get in touch with our team today.

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Devon Fata

Devon is the Chief Executive of Pixoul LLC. He works closely with clients to explore new ways to capture key performance objectives, build habit-forming products, and improve digital product ROIs.

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